Weeks 7-10. Devastation.

When I started treatment, my radiation doctor said I’d have a three week “honeymoon” where I’d feel OK, like nothing was going on. But I’d pay for that in spades when treatment finished.

He wasn’t kidding.

I started right before the July 4th holiday, but the radiation folks didn’t have what they needed before the holiday. So they did the final prep the Monday after. That put me a day off, starting on a Tuesday, making a Monday my last day for treatment.

I barely made it.

Towards the end, my morning sickness would stretch into my treatment time. The look on the tech’s faces when I asked if anyone had puked in the mask during treatment was priceless. Apparently, they never considered it. Keep in mind, I’m strapped to the table with a plastic mask covering my head, face, and shoulders. It was porous, but still, puking in it would have been bad. I’d have to wave my hands, holler best I could, and hope they could stop everything and get me out before I choked. Luckily, it never happened.

My chemo mask. You get to keep them.

That said, the seven week beatdown of chemo and radiation left me physically and emotionally shattered. I was over 50 lbs lighter, my neck was red from radiation, my throat was sore as hell – pain medication notwithstanding. And I was ghost white from chemo. Emotionally, I was about as brittle as a human can get. At one point my wife asked me a battery of simple questions and I broke. One of my sister-in-laws came over, and gave me a foot massage. I started bubbling up right after she started. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around someone doing something so nice for someone so wretched.

And amount of crap, gunk, and dead cells I was rinsing out of my mouth was horrific. Eating pretty much sucked, so I stopped eating, preferring to inject Boost into my stomach tube.

At this point, they sent me back to the chemo center every day for saline hydration. Turns out, it’s really hard to keep hydrated by drinking water after treatment. Even if you could stomach enough, your guts are so wrecked by chemo you wouldn’t absorb all the water you need. Hydration worked reasonably well, and I’d end up feeling better after it was over.

During this whole process I met others going through the same treatment. One or two looked far better than me. And generally, they started eating at about three weeks. A month after I stopped treatment, my throat was way too sore so I was still using the feeding tube. This was really non-nonsensical looking back since Boost is pretty easy on the throat and I could drink water, even as little as I did.

One morning one of my favorite nurses at the infusion center started chatting with me as usual, and the conversation went something like this;

“So are you eating now” No. I’m still using the tube.
“Why aren’t you eating?” My throat hurts too much. I’m waiting for it to stop hurting before I try eating.
“That won’t happen before you lose the ability to swallow”

Then she explained that my throat needed to be exercised, and toughened up by having food down it. Things weren’t going to magically get better for me on their own. I’d have to suck it up and start eating before I got better.

Now at this point there was little more I hated than the tube sticking out of my guts. It was an irritation since the day it went in. It never sealed right and always seemed to ooze really gross stuff from around it’s hole. I was keen to get it out and also terrified that my throat would stop working and I’d be stuck with it for life.

That night, I started eating. A little at first – one meal. Then over the next days two, then three.

In a few days, my energy level skyrocketed and I found myself on the way back.